Charles Darwin and his theory of evolution revolutionized the scientific understanding of nature and biology. But because evolution is among the most counter-intuitive ideas in science, its public acceptance has been limited.
There are many intelligent and educated people who still do not fully understand or believe it. And more who may accept it as a scientific truth but have not adopted evolution into their mental toolkit, and do not apply it to their perception of reality each and every day.
Here are 4 ways Darwinian thinking can help you understand money, finance and markets, and help you build and protect your wealth:
1. Consider the stock market a biosphere of public corporations that live, evolve and die like plants and animals
The national financial folk wisdom of 1955 was, “As General Motors goes, so goes the nation.” Bankruptcy for GM was not only unimaginable, it would assuredly bring the nation down with it.
Yet as we all know GM did indeed go bankrupt in 2009, wiping out common shareholders. And the nation not only survived, our GDP has since nearly septupled, soaring from $2.8 trillion in 1955 to $18 trillion last year.
The DJIA is up from 488 to 26,000 this year.
Folk wisdom and common sense can be myopic, and perceive only the present-day reality projected upon the future. Why else should we be shocked by aging celebrities? Or when venerable corporations cease to outperform, and upstarts such as the FANG gang (Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, Google) take center stage.
“If current trends continue” always sounds prescient. But current trends never continue indefinitely in organic systems where birth, growth, death and evolution rule. The “widows’ and orphans’ stocks” of the 1950s, the stocks that would always be there, cannot always be there.
Corporations, like people, routinely grow, age and die. So how do you deal with it? Like evolution, you adapt. To a Darwinian thinker the true widows’ and orphans’ “stock” is a diversified index fund that will endure and grow, even as its components ripen, wither, fade, merge, are replaced and even die.
2. View every living thing, every financial entity, as primarily interested in its own survival, prosperity, expansion or reproduction
Long before Darwin, Adam Smith wisely wrote, “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.” Here’s the short version, courtesy of Warren Buffett: “Never ask the barber if you need a haircut.”
When buying stocks, insurance, or any other service, financial or otherwise, always remember the self-interest of the broker and the seller. A surgeon performs surgery. A lawyer bills every hour. A stockbroker lives on commissions.
A commissioned stockbroker who is reluctant to execute your order to buy shares of Berkshire Hathaway (full disclosure, I buy them, own them and have never sold them) knows you are statistically less likely to sell Berkshire than most other holdings; the money that purchases shares of Berkshire may likely never yield commissions or fees for any broker ever again.
3. Understand that deception and fraud are key survival tactics in biology and finance
A cat deceptively raises its hackles to inflate its size and intimidate enemies and predators. Other animals use mimicry, camouflage, surprise, and even feign injury or death to survive or devour prey.
Consider the Bible, which introduces the power of deception in human life: the serpent deceives Eve, Cain kills Abel and seems to deceive God. Believe it as literal truth or accept it as parable, Bible stories bespeak an essential truth about the centrality of deception in the biosphere.
So why should we expect to escape deception in the high stakes world of finance? While financial professionals provide customers with needed services, self-interest — conscious or not — may lead them to recommend managed mutual funds, closed-end funds, annuities, or complex insurance policies which provide large fees and commissions but may not serve the best interests of the client.
A broker recommending purchases to a client is not held to the fiduciary standard — to act solely in the interests of the client — but only a “suitability” standard, which leaves plenty of room to aggressively sell financial products that are lucrative for the seller, but not the buyer.
4. Realize that our instinct to trust our fellow creatures represents an eternal vulnerability in financial transactions
Humans are social animals, and humanity is a team sport. We are congenial and credulous by nature, which was necessary for the tribal life we evolved from, and is necessary still for sustaining the communal and national life in which we now live, work and prosper.
The counter-trend, so evident in wartime but also present in our workaday world — in media, markets, finance, government and even, courtship and family life — is manipulation and betrayed trust. Think of “fake news.” Think of the indicted politician, the con artist, the criminal, the sociopath.
But the Machiavellian betrayal of trust can be adaptive even in successful professionals, entrepreneurs, sales, courtship, marriage and family. A small child caught misbehaving by his father has a stock answer: “Mommy said I could.”
So how can we protect ourselves from our own congenital credulousness when approaching financial markets? Read, study and listen to credible sources that have a long track record of honesty and integrity.
If there were a Mt. Rushmore of investing I would nominate these three wise men: John C. (Jack) Bogle, Warren E. Buffett and Charles T. (Charlie) Munger. They have each long honored their investors as partners and friends and have grown their wealth alongside them.
My current book, Anyone Can Be Rich!: A Psychiatrist Provides the Mental Tools to Build Your Wealth, is dedicated to all of them — and was commended by Mr. Buffett himself.
Cap Rate, Explained
Whenever you’re pitching, shopping, brokering or hunting deals, one of the first terms you’ll come across is the “cap rate.”
Short for capitalization rate, at its most basic form, the cap rate indicates the annual yield on a real estate property.
But that’s not all it’s good for. It can also indicate valuations, feasibility of a deal, and what you should pay for a property. Here’s WealthLAB’s Cap Rate, Explained.
What is a cap rate?
The basic formula of the cap rate is the property’s net operating income (NOI) divided by the purchase price. It basically means the yield (return) of the property without considering debt or anything else. Or, in layman’s terms, it lets you know (an estimate of) your cash flow in advance.
Cap Rate Example
Let’s take a 20-unit property in Atlanta listed for $2 million. The rent roll for the year comes out to $300,000 with operating expenses totaling $100,000.
$200k divided by $2M = 10% = a 10% cap rate. (In everyday lingo, you’ll hear people call that a “10 cap.”)
How can I use it?
Quite a few ways. The most basic one is to compare the cap rate of a property you’re considering investing in vs. the average cap rate for the market. This would let you know whether you’re getting a good deal or not.
You can also use it when projecting income against a property you plan to upgrade. Then it would be a “pro forma cap rate.”
Find your price
You can also use it to find the price you’re willing to pay. But perhaps your strategy says you’ll only buy properties at a 12% cap rate. So now you can use the cap rate to calculate what your offer should be.
Using example above, if NOI is $200k, simply divide by your desired cap rate offer price (12%) = $1.66M = your offer price.
What’s a good cap rate?
It all depends, really.
Depends on the market, the state of the property, the cost of capital. In so-called gateway markets (think New York City, London, Tokyo etc.), the cap rates are lower because of the idea that — just like bonds and other “safe” instruments — investing in big markets is a safe play.
In addition, properties in big markets traditionally trend upwards—thus offsetting the lower cash flow.
In smaller markets, where there are less job, less people, and therefore less rental demand, the value doesn’t trend upwards as much; they remain stagnant.
For that reason, they’re deemed more risky and you’d seek a higher cap rate to get higher cash flow to mitigate that risk.
Yes, cap rates are also used to value properties. Again, going by the average cap rates for a given market, once you recapitalize (refinance), the lender—vs. the free market—will set a value of your property.
So the value would be found like this: NOI divided by cap rate. Let’s use the Atlanta 20-unit as an example. That particular type of property in that particular market has an average cap rate of 8%.
$200k NOI divided by 8% = $2.5M = your property’s value.
The Main Benefits of Being Financially Independent
Being financially independent means different things to different people.
To some, it means retiring and traveling the world, relaxing at home, or doing whatever you love.
For others, it means having the financial stability to have at your back, while you continue your career or business.
In general, financial independence is defined as when your passive income is higher than your living expenses. Here’s the issue though…
It can be a moving target.
You need different levels of income at different points in your life. Let me explain
How Much Money Do I Need?
If you are 18 years old and have no debts, are healthy, and can get by with little, the amount of income you actually need to get by is very low.
Eventually, you might get married, have a family, a dog, etc. So, the income you need to sustain this is a lot higher.
Then, the kids move out and you downsize. You need a lot less again.
Then you start to get older and you find your health failing you. Your costs will go up once again.
So, at a minimum, I’ve already outlined 4 different points in your life where your “financial independence number” will go up or down.
Regardless of the difficulty in calculating exactly how much you’ll need, there still are a lot of benefits to strive for financial independence. Let’s take a look at those.
Freedom of Choice
I already alluded to it a bit, but the biggest benefit to financial independence is freedom.
As soon as your passive income is higher than your wages, you’ll find that you don’t need that job. You can continue to work, but you don’t have to. So, all the stress is gone.
Same goes if you’re a business owner. You can continue to grow your business if you want, but you don’t need to.
You could opt to walk away from it and do something else entirely. It allows you could leave the high paying job and find a job that is more rewarding.
Whatever you choose to do, it’s because you’ve achieved Financial Independence.
You’ll Be Able to Make More Money
You can never unlock your true potential as long as you are a slave to your job or business. It’s hard to pursue other opportunities when you can’t afford to leave your job.
As an employee, you can earn money by working more, getting a raise, or getting better positions. But, you are actually very limited because most of your time is dedicated to the job.
And that brings us to the heart of financial independence – time. The most valuable commodity is time, and if your time is spent working for someone else, it isn’t spent finding new opportunities for growth.
By growing your passive income to the point where you don’t have to work anymore, you can unlock that time and harness all of your intelligence and creative power to pursue more valuable endeavors.
You’ll Actually Get to Retire
If you haven’t realized it yet, Social Security is going to go broke, pensions can disappear overnight, and even state or municipal government benefits can be slashed to pennies on the dollar.
While some people will be able to retire with these, we should not depend on them entirely. Doing so will make it far less likely that you’ll have the security you need or want in retirement.
But, retirement isn’t something many of us worry about until it’s far too late. We don’t save or prepare, then find ourselves unable to retire.
So many people work until they are no longer able to work and they are forced to retire. By then, they have no way to actually enjoy any of their ‘retirement.’
If you are financially independent at a young age, you are kind of already retired. Additionally, you can continue to work and just save everything to get to a point where you are truly prepared for retirement.
You might even be able to afford to retire early and enjoy your later years to their full potential.
Passive Income is Like Unemployment Insurance
Unemployment insurance covers only a portion of your lost wages. But, if your passive income is already at or above your wages, then it’s like a really good insurance policy.
The fact is that many industries are changing and advancing, which is leaving its older workers behind. Having financial independence means that you’ve got something to fall back on and can take your time to find new work without worrying.
You Can Plan
A lot of people never plan ahead. While they might plan their next vacation, wedding, or Black Friday shopping spree, most people aren’t planning for their finances next month let alone 20 years from now.
A lot of that comes from the belief that it’s impossible to get ahead, be successful, wealthy, and secure. Planning ahead would just be depressing.
But, if you work to attain financial independence, planning for the future becomes fun. Who doesn’t want to think about the future when the world is your oyster?
You’ll Be Less Stressed
Money is one of the leading causes of worry and stress in our society and in most households.
Having more passive income can help with your finances, allowing you to enjoy the company of your spouse and children. It can allow your family to actually enjoy each other rather than always being stressed over paying bills.
Why Aren’t You Chasing F.I.?
What is holding you back from pursuing financial independence? Comment below.
How To Preserve Family Wealth By Planning For Succession
In the UK alone, an estimated £5.5 trillion is due to be passed between generations over the next 30 years – according to Kings Court Trust – yet according to the Attitudes Survey 2019, only half of Ultra High Net Worth Individuals have a robust succession plan in place.
Most inheritance handovers will be seamless. However, lack of a succession plan is a concern because it takes time to devise a holistic strategy to transfer decision-making responsibilities to the next generation. Not surprisingly, there are numerous barriers to the process: timing, lack of clear objectives and in some cases the decision maker or head of the family might not be ready to hand over authority.
Alongside all this, changing family structures and a wide span of generations present challenges of their own. For example, children in different branches of the family might be treated differently, as might stepchildren and grandchildren, particularly concerning property or fine art.
Passing on wealth is a major concern for wealthy families and while there is no way of rubber stamping the transfer process, there are three approaches that one can take to prepare for successful transition.
Promoting a vision
Apart from wanting to provide a comfortable level of wealth to future generations, it is important to start by identifying clear objectives: defining how future generations should benefit from an inheritance; identifying what that might mean, to whom and in what proportions.
Some families want to maintain consistency in their philanthropic ventures, while others are more focused on creating a lasting legacy. Is there a philanthropic purpose for your wealth and if so, does it align with your family’s values? For instance, there are hundreds of foundations dedicated to different causes; from well-known ones such as the Wellcome Trust to the smaller such as the Peter Harrison Foundation. Each one has its own mission.
Sometimes the interests and focus of the head of the family do not align with the children or grandchildren. For example, baby boomers might be comfortable investing in manufacturing, but Gen X and Gen Y might prefer an emphasis on sustainable investing or in technology venture capital. There will even be wide disparities in risk tolerance amongst the beneficiaries. And then there are myriad human factors; everyone will have different personal views, experiences and needs.
Preparing the legacy
At the same time, it is important to create the right governance structures and identify the corporate trustees and lawyers that will assist you in achieving the smooth transition of assets.
Taking an integrated approach with this is one of the keys to successful transfer and management of wealth. For example, what type of structures should be established; trusts, private trust companies, foundations or even groups of companies? Co-ordinating with the relevant experts depending on the assets held and structures required is essential too.
Clients with family located internationally will need to understand the implications to the wealth transfer of offshore and regional tax regimes, for example. Even US and UK FATCA and the automatic exchange of information need to be taken into account.
It’s all about the people
Wealth transfer is of course about preservation of assets, but it is also about people. The succession structure needs to fit the individuals within the family. Some members of a family might have little understanding about finance so it might be necessary to educate them or even negotiate with them for the transition ahead. More competent individuals might want a more flexible structure in order to apply their knowledge.
It is therefore vital that the succession planning process, which can take up to a decade, includes open dialogue with key beneficiaries right from the start. A survey conducted by Moore Stephens found that nearly a quarter of respondents highlighted the difficulties when trying to reach agreements in the decision-making process.
It is quite common for people to avoid discussions about money and lack of communication can seriously hinder the process; beneficiaries need to know more than just the names of trustees or advisers.
At JAR Capital, I advise clients to include their beneficiaries gradually. To begin with it might just be an exercise in sharing information, but over time the next generation becomes more interested and seeks to take on more responsibility. This could include taking an active role in investments and governance or spearheading the family foundation.
There is no doubt that issue of intergenerational wealth transfer is a thorny one. Nevertheless, we believe that those families that take action in advance to preserve their wealth for future generations will ensure an orderly and harmonious succession of assets.